The Importance of Questioning

by Riah

Question Marks

I recently discovered that my main character—my first official main character, who grew from a role play, was a Mary Sue.

This is an issue. Being a Mary Sue means that the character is too perfect. And more often than not, your readers have a hard time connecting with them. Characters need flaws. It’s what makes them relatable characters, because you’re not perfect, and they’re not perfect. It seems like it could be a match made in heaven.

This is about the time I started to question her and wonder about her life. Naturally, her life won’t be flawlessly easy. Imperfect lives create conflict, which is an absolute story necessity. But when she fights off monsters and bad guys with ease and isn’t even breaking a sweat, this is where me and my writing buddy realize that we needed to remove some of the qualities that make her wonderful, and replace them with qualities that make her flawed.

Being a writer, I feel as if this character is my child, best friend, sister, and guardian angel. I have spent endless days with her by my side, and I want her to be strong enough to protect me from my nightmares from the very start. I want her to be able to look over her shoulder, give the most perfect and terrifying glare and then walk coolly away as the opposition cowers.

But that isn’t relatable. Nobody is superb without a blemish. The reason any of us connect with people in stories is because they have similar struggles. The only difference is that a lot of the conflict for the people in stories comes from the villain or other anti-hero source. In real life, conflict comes to us from bad decisions we or other people make, and the consequences come naturally.

I would like to share a couple of questions I’ve been using to help me and my character find her flaws. These kind of ride away from the typical positive questions asking you to state what your character likes. We’re gonna throw ourselves in deep, because deep conflict is what our Mary Sues need (but don’t misunderstand—while the more positive questions are important, I feel as though they’re focused on a little too much. And they’re easier to answer, and therefore are often the first to be paid attention to).

 What is their past like?

Pasts are important aspects of their story. Their past specifically helped shape who they are now. How’s their family? Is it whole or broken? Or is it twisted? What about their home? Was it safe? Or was the world more threatening than their “safe place”? Did they have friends? Did they lose any friends? How? (You can expand on all of these—not only is it fun and easy to get lost doing, answering questions gives your character depth.)

What habits have they developed that don’t help them in any way?

I’m not talking about nose picking, spitting or other gross habits that would otherwise immediately come to mind. I’m talking about knee-jerk reactions or not thinking before speaking. What situations do they find themselves only digging themselves deeper into trouble? Do they fight it or not?

A yes or no response is good. Yes is good because it’s a moment where sweat breaks out and your character realizes that reacting instinctively might not be the smartest thing. No is good because it creates embarrassment and bad first impressions (or second or third impressions).

What do they hate about themselves?

Is their inability to put their thoughts into verbal conversation? Is it blushing to the max after a certain something happens or a certain someone else walks by? What thing about themselves drives them insane, that they would trade for absolutely anything?

And most importantly: What can’t they do, no matter what?

Yes, this is different from the question right before this one. For this particular question, big is excellent, and small is good.

Some examples:

Small: No matter what I do, I can’t seem to balance on anything higher than two feet in the air.

Big: no matter what, I find it really difficult just being around people.

Note: your character’s weaknesses, and difficulty thereof, can also depend on the story and its circumstances. For instance, if your character, for one reason or another, finds it difficult to crawl, maybe include a scene where they have to crawl. Medical handicaps can also be useful throughout the story, but remember: there has to be a balance, at least by the end of your story, between what they can do well, and what they struggle with. Also, the severity of your characters’ struggles can depend on pressure of their surroundings.

What’s even more important than the question of what can’t they do is this one:

How does your character fight through their greatest weakness and fears?

This is where the most important development happens.

So whatever you do, don’t just focus on the good stuff. Dive in and find a balance that works for you and your writing. And remember that your writing style will change a couple of times as you figure out how everything fits.

See you all at the conference!


 

RiahI’m Riah! I’m enthusiastic about reading and writing, but am also as enthusiastic towards music and art. I’ve recently been into makeup which includes the use of prosthetics, latex, silicone, and body paint–you know, your basic movie makeup. I’m constantly reading fan fiction, when I’m not eating or putting my time into my other interests. Like trying to figure out how I got so jumpy.

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Just Do It!

by Kylee, Teen Committee Member

As my mother loves to tell everyone, those were my first words—”Just do it!”

When I was a small child, the popular Nike slogan had been ingrained in my brain, so they were the first coherent words that escaped my lips. Although, as we are all very well aware, “just doing” whatever “it” is is much easier said than done. Almost more so when it comes to writing!

You write consistently everyday for months and feel great, but then miss a day, then two, and then the next thing you know, it’s been a week, and you haven’t written. And you can feel it. If you’ve been writing and stop, you are most definitely going to feel it.

Writing Is Fingerprint of the Soul

 

Writing is a form of expression.

 

Everyone knows that, but very few people actually realize it. You know it’s true, but you don’t always treat it as such. If you’ve stopped writing, I know how hard it is to start again. I can never start slowly. I have to sit down, stare at the blank page as I eat a massive bowl of ice cream as my brain churns, then write for four hours straight! But slowly works for lots of people too. Write a little bit every day, write all at once—it doesn’t matter. Just write.

 

IMPORTANT!! I would HIGHLY recommend spilling your guts on paper before attempting to write anything else.

 

As creative people, we feel deeply, and things get stuck inside us. So your brain is either going all the time, or it feels empty. But you can’t write anything either way. Write about you. Write a story in first person. Feel it. All of your struggles—your character now has them. Hopes, dreams, fears . . . write it all. Take yourself on a well-deserved adventure.

She bled unspoken words from her fingers, 

Watched as they fell from the ends of her hands, 

Until the paper beneath her was smothered,

In thoughts she could not understand,

The words danced with glee on the paper,

As they worked upon forming straight lines,

They’d escaped from the cage where she’d locked them,

And jumped free of her bodies confines,

She couldn’t stop them from telling her stories,

Couldn’t hide them by biting her tongue,

So she watched with wide eyes as she shifted,

And each sentence was strung,

They told stories she’d long since forgotten,

Swept into the dustiest parts of her mind,

And stories she’d worked to keep hidden,

Ones she prayed nobody would find,

As she watched the word’s dances get slower,

And then finally come to a rest,

She felt a smile creep over her features, 

And a great weight lift off of her chest,

She’d thought that her words were all worthless,

But the paper left nowhere to hide,

And she finally noticed the beauty,

That she’d always kept bottled inside.

~e.h.

More Interesting in My Head

You don’t have time. I know you don’t. Nobody has time for anything. But you know how bad you want everyone to know your name as well as J.K. Rowling. Don’t lie. 😉 Everyone knows that’s exactly what you dream of in the deep dark recesses of your brain. Just admit it, ’cause DREAMING IS A GOOD THING!!! It’s okay to dream, even though it’s absolutely terrifying. Everyone is going to make fun of you cause even if you do ever manage to actually be halfway satisfied with one of those MANY stories you’ve been working on for forever, it’ll never get published. That’s way too hard. And even if it ever does actually get published, no one will ever buy it except for your Gramma, who then accidentally threw it in the fireplace because she thought it was a newspaper from 1973.

No.

It’s okay to dream.

The last thing I’ll briefly touch on is perfectionism. You want the story to be flawless. If you edit that sucker 12,000 times, if every single word in that manuscript has changed three times, and even if it started out about time-traveling monks and is now about Rebecca dumping her boyfriend for a bull rider, you’re still gonna hate it.

Doesn’t matter.

Quit stressing. Peace out, friends! Happy writing!


Kylee
Kylee Ward is a 17-year-old, fun-loving teenager who completely ADORES The Teen Writers Conference! Some of her many titles include major lover of literature, cowgirl, ballroom dancer, writer, quote addict, oldest of eight children and cosmetologist! She loves music and usually isn’t afraid to embarrass her friends (yes, there are many incidents of random song and dance, usually in aisles of grocery stores). Also, she’s apparently the only committee member who writes bios in third person.

10 (Contradictory!) Writing Tips

By Mikayla, Teen Committee Member

Arrows Opposite

Confession time: I’ve struggled with knowing what to write for this post. Like, really struggled. Life has been insanity, and that nasty little editor in my head (who I so lovingly call Anderson) has been at work, not allowing me to enjoy the time I spend writing. But– somehow—I’ve finally discovered something to talk about.

The following are 10 pieces of advice that I’ve followed. They may seem contradictory (okay, they ARE…), but we are all different, so different tactics will work for different people. And I’m going to do all of this with the help of some of my favorite fandoms!

  1. Share your writing with others.

Sharing your WIP(s) with friends, family, and other trusted individuals can help to provide needed and productive insight. Much as Harry shares what he knows with Ron and Hermione (and occasionally others), getting outside points of view can help you see what track you should be on, and can help encourage you to keep going. 

  1. Keep your writing to yourself.

I told you this would be contradictory. Sometimes the best thing for you to do is keep your precious story to yourself, at least until the right moment. Harry sometimes kept the things he knew to himself, waiting until the right time to tell people. You need to pick what’s best for you. I know for me, once I share a story with someone, my enthusiasm about it fizzles out.

  1. Write for an imagined audience.

Remember when Anne Shirley was first trying to get published? Or when she let her imagination run wild? She always had an idea of who she wanted these tales to be for, whether some distinguished publisher, or her dear friends. Having an “ideal” reader in mind can assist you in knowing how to guide your story.

  1. Write for yourself.

If you aren’t satisfied with your story, who will be? It wasn’t until Anne looked deep inside herself and wrote the story close to her heart, without any thought of it being published, that she created something that she could truly be proud of. Sometimes, we need only to write the stories that we want to read, in order to find the greatest success.

  1. Find a writing buddy.

I actually just found my own—the TWC Teen Committee’s own Ellie Robinson! Although we haven’t been at it for long, having someone to talk to about my writerly woes and to ask help from has been great! It feels much like Sherlock, who has John to talk to when he’s making his deductions. As Sherlock builds off of his friend, he becomes even more outstanding.

  1. Write alone.

Sometimes, we just need to be alone. We’re writers; the profession nearly demands that we be solitary. Sherlock uses his mind palace, not speaking to John or anyone else for long periods. Although this isn’t advisable, sometimes just being accountable to yourself allows you a bit of freedom.

  1. Plot the heck out of your story before you start.

It’s good to know where you’re going, like having a map or GPS for a road trip. Or how the Avengers come up with a plan before they charge into battle. Plotting your book is like having your battle strategy; it’s at the ready to help you in times of crisis.

  1. Fly by the seat of your pants.

Sometimes, the best discoveries are made when we aren’t looking for them. And sometimes the world can only be saved by rushing blindly into a situation, with only a vague sense of what you’re about to do. It provides a sense of freedom . . .

Isn’t that right, Cap?

  1. Ask for development help.

Getting assistance to figure out exactly where you want your book to go is a great thing. I used to pace around houses with my friends to develop my story ideas. It’s similar to how Walt Disney had his teams of Imagineers, and they would discuss film ideas. It provides you with a broader image of what your story can be.

  1. Pull from your own brain.

Sometimes when we get others’ help, we feel an obligation to use and keep whatever their suggestions were, not allowing our stories to freely unfold. Sometimes Walt chose to make decisions himself, and his stories blossomed. Being free from obligations can give us more creative freedom.


 

There you have it—10 very contradictory points that I hope will help you.

You can mix and match which points you follow, follow bits of all of them, or toss all of them to the wind and completely ignore me.

You’re an individual, and so what works for your writing style will be different from anyone else’s. Just keep writing!

See you this summer, Teen Writers!


Mikayla

Hello, I am Mikayla! I am 16 years old, and a fangirl to the core. Sherlock, Doctor Who, Harry Potter…the list goes on and on! I love writing dystopian and fantasy stories that pull you right into the world, but my absolute favorite is writing fan fiction! Sherlock is my forté, and if you ask any of my friends, they will attest to the power I have to crush your soul and break your heart with my fan fics. I guess that explains why their nickname for me is Regina. I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of this committee, and cannot wait to work with so many fabulous teens and writers!

The Importance of Taking Breaks

by Ellie, Teen Committee Member

beach shoes

Breaks can be a lifesaver. But only good breaks. Not the procrastinating kind that leads to surfing social media.

Sundays Off: I’ve chosen not to write on Sundays for religious reasons. I’ve heard multiple published authors talk about making the same decision. Not only do I feel as if I’ve been spiritually blessed because of this, but I feel much better physically and mentally.

In Creative Writing we were required to complete NaNoWriMo. We also received participation points for writing daily. My teacher allowed me to skip Sunday if I still reached 50,000 words for the month. It was a ton of work, but I lived for Sundays. I was the only one in class to complete the challenge, and I strongly believe it was because of the break. Sundays were the one day I could relax and recharge my creative juices.

Read!: I’ve found that there is so much you can do to get your brain moving without writing. Reading is fantastic. Read books in all genres (yes, even nonfiction) and write down whatever gives you an idea. If you find a character trait that fascinates you or a time period you like or anything, write yourself a note. Then, when you are trying to figure out what to write, pull out your notes.

Live a Little: Sometimes after school, your brain is too dead to write. So instead of taking a four-hour nap that will later seem like a waste of time, go into the world. Take a walk, people watch, or be around friends. The things you see and hear will add to your knowledge while strengthening the person you’re trying to become.


Ellie

Hello! I’m Ellie. I am sixteen. I burn microwave popcorn no matter what. I love nature, music, and all things that seem to be edged with magic and adventure. I love to write fantasy and realistic fiction.

I read whatever I can get my hands on, and I am very fond of many of the writings of the authors that teach at the TWC. I am very excited to attend the conference again and to be a part of the committee.

Voices of the Muses

By Genet, 2016 Teen Committee Member

Muses

Strong characters have strong voices; the way a character thinks and speaks define them. Rubeus Hagrid and Percy Jackson have distinct ways of speaking that make them instantly different from the other characters in their respective series.

There are tons of character interview and questionnaire sheets writers use to create or find their character’s voice. Honestly they never helped me much, not until I discovered what my own voice as a writer was.

How did I speak when I wrote? Who was I in text?

Last year I was in a debate class where I had to write and memorize a seven-to-ten-minute speech on a topic of my choice. Left to my own devices, my voice flourished.

I knew I would have to give this speech aloud multiple times, so my writing had to reflect how I actually thought and spoke in real conversation. My speech had to showcase me as a person and my personality, and it had to be about something I actually cared about.

For my topic, I choose the death of curiosity in our society, and soon I had five to six pages of me and my voice. I knew how I spoke and how I sounded when I wrote.

Suddenly I could see the line between my words and a character’s words in my fiction writing.

I understood when something was my thought as a narrator, or if it was actually the thought of the character.

Now when I am having trouble finding a character’s voice, I find something they are passionate about and write them a monologue on it. This exercise might not work for everyone—some writers I know love the interview sheets—but for me, learning how I speak on paper allowed me to learn how each of my characters should speak as well.

I found my voice, and in doing so, I found theirs.

 


 

Genet

 

Hello!! My name is Genet. It is pronounced Janae. I love fantasy and science fiction both reading and writing it. By conference day, I’ll be 18. I am so excited to work with the Teen Committee and the Board! I have learned so much from the Teen Writers Conference and look forward to contributing to it this year.

 

Finding Inspiration

By Kate, TWC Teen Committee Member

Finding-Inspiration-for-Writing

 

We all know how it feels to sit down at the computer, open your outline, and stare at the blinking cursor, totally devoid of ideas. When that happens to me, I have a few things I turn to for inspiration.

Music

Personally, music is very hit-or-miss, but I have some friends who swear by it. I can’t say that surprises me; after all, songs are stories.

I like to listen to Taylor Swift, Adele, Carrie Underwood, Linkin Park, Eminem, and other artists who use strong imagery, tell complete stories, or convey strong, pure emotions in their songs. I also find that film scores help me infuse emotion into scenes.

I use Pandora and other free music streaming services to discover new songs. When I find a song that’s fundamental to a specific character or scene, I’ll purchase it in order to support the artist.

Art

I find that images are sources of inspiration. Art tells a story just like music, and I find excellent art has me asking those “what if?” questions that too often lead to an idea for a story.

It also has an added advantage of allowing me to picture my setting and characters. Whenever I’m not sure exactly how I want a place to look, I turn to art to help me brainstorm possibilities.

Even though I have the artistic talent of a stapler, I still like to draw pictures of characters, important places, and essential accessories. It forces me to really think about the subject, and I usually find myself spinning backstories while I attack my drawing with colored pencils.

I find my Pinterest account to be invaluable when it comes to saving images that inspire me. I also have a separate sketch notebook I use when I draw my own characters or settings.

History class

As a teenager, I have to go to school. So why not use school to help my writing? I find that history class is a gold mine when it comes to world building and character development. After all, it’s called history for a reason.

I jot down unedited ideas in the margins of my history notebook in green ink during lectures, and revisit them later when I’m outlining or writing.

No doubt you have your own preferences and individual system when it comes to finding inspiration. Feel free adapt one of the sources I’ve mentioned so it works for you.


 

Kate_TWC.JPG

Salutations! My full name is Katarina, but I tend to introduce myself with my nickname Kate. I’m turning sixteen in April, and I’m so excited for this year’s conference! I love leather journals, sharp pencils, swimming, t-shirts that express my love of reading, volunteering at the local library, and public speaking. I suffer from chronic migraines (boo!), so you’ll see me on conference day wearing my signature hat-and-sunglasses combination. I can’t wait to meet you on June 18th!